I love you. You love me. We love each other. Or maybe you don’t love me. I certainly love you even if you don’t love me. I miss you. I am thinking about you. I care about you. I don’t care about you. You don’t care about me. I wish things could be different. I wish they could stay like this forever. I think this might be a dream. I will always love you.
And that pretty well covers the themes Robert Smith and his band the Cure have been mining for nearly 40 years. His fans, thousands of them at the Frank Erwin Center Friday night, mostly in their 30s to 50s, were totally fine with this. This was a night to re-acquaint one’s self with the epic melodrama that is adolescent romanticism. The complexities of adulthood, the pragmatic nuts and bolts of long-term relationships? Those are not Smith’s wheelhouse (see above).
What is Smith’s wheelhouse, what it became over the long term, is wide-screen psychedelic pop/rock.
For all he and the Cure are (rightly) identified with post-punk, 80s-night dance pop and the pre-Nirvana idea of “alternative,” the Cure are, at their heart, a set of pro-grade acid rockers, fond of sweeping keyboards, processed guitars, the occasional “tribal”drum beat. The Cure covered Jimi Hendrix on its very first album; that sort of thing has always been part of his DNA.
And for all that Smith is the band’s sole constant, bassist Simon Gallup and keyboardist Roger O’Donnell have been with the band on and off since 1979 and 1987, respectively. Drummer Jason Cooper dates from the 1990s. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels, a longtime David Bowie associate and friend of Smith’s, has been with the group since 2012. These guys know each other’s moves cold. Other than some ripping solos, mostly from Gabrels, there wasn’t much room for improvisation.
But it did mean they could play 33 songs in three solid hours and four encores, drawing on virtually every period of the band, have a four song, self-described “rock” encore and a six song “pop” encore and have it all make total musical sense.
Though they have played festivals in the interim, including ACL in 2013, this was their first major U.S. tour since 2008 (they played the Austin Music Hall on that one; it was very sweaty). In a press release, the band promised “to explore 37 years of Cure songs.”
And yep, that’s what it was, including a B-side (“The Exploding Boy”) that hasn’t been played since the Reagan administration. This was a set for and about life-long fans, with the band even in the radio-and-culture-aren’t-paying-much-attention years (from about 1996 to now).
A plurality of material (seven songs) came from the 1989 career-defining “Disintegration,” which is as good an example of knowing the audience as you are likely to see. The epochal “Just Like Heaven,” one of the best songs ever written, became a requisite scream-along.
Certain songs were treated as icons: “Pictures of You” and “Friday I’m in Love” came with a massive projection of the single’s sleeves, as if to day, “we know you stared at this thing while you played it in your bedroom and moped.”
But this set was mostly about massive blue moods “All I Want,” “Closedown,” “Prayers for Rain”) even as the encores split their skill set in two. For the rock encore, a new song fans have dubbed “Step Into the Light” felt like vintage Cure, while “Shake Dog Shake” recalled their acid-rock period “Wrong Number” turned into guitar thunder noise rock and “Never Enough” morphed from a dance
track to choppy rock.
“Hot Hot Hot,” to me an annoying attempt to write a Chic song (Smith is a lot of things but funky isn’t one of them) worked far better live, while “A Forest” and the obligatory “Boys Don’t Cry” closed the evening.
37 years of you, packed into three hours. Not too shabby, gents.
Out of This World
Pictures of You
A Night Like This
All I Want
Just Like Heaven
This Twilight Garden
The End of the World
Us or Them
The Hungry Ghost
Prayers for Rain
Step Into the Light
Shake Dog Shake
Hot Hot Hot!!!
Close to Me
The Exploding Boy
In Between Days
Doing the Unstuck
Friday I’m in Love
It Can Never Be the Same
Boys Don’t Cry